School superintendents urge analytical caution

Comparing report card data to prior years is tricky

By Casey S. Elliott -

Having three different tests in three years makes it nearly impossible to find a lot of value in the state of Ohio’s recently released school report cards, superintendents say.

“It is as if we are asking the basketball team to play a single game using a different-sized ball or a rim height each year, but they don’t really know the size or height until game time,” Urbana City Schools Superintendent Charles Thiel said.

The 2015-16 Ohio School Report Cards were released Sept. 15. Locally, districts saw grades mostly stay the same or decrease, except for some specific areas.

Different standards, different tests

The constant changing of standards and tests has been a sore point for superintendents.

“Graham supports rigor and assessments. We don’t support moving targets with unfunded mandates to implement the new expectations for all,” Graham Local Schools Superintendent Kirk Koennecke said.

“The report card is just one measure that matters,” Mechanicsburg Exempted Village Schools Superintendent Danielle Prohaska added. “We do not think that the most recent report card is an accurate reflection of the quality of students and teachers we have at Mechanicsburg.”

And Mechanicsburg has an additional difficulty for aligning student learning with the testing schedule – block scheduling.

“As a district that teaches in a block schedule, the testing window for our spring classes is set too early in the semester, making our students accountable for all the content at the halfway point in the semester. This is not a true reflection of teaching.”

Superintendents said differences between online and paper-and-pencil testing can also factor into the scores. Most districts are taking their tests online, though Urbana and West Liberty-Salem Local Schools still used paper and pencil tests for some grade levels for these report cards.

“It is difficult to compare results across the state when we know that paper and online testing questions were not the exact same question, asked the exact same way, and requiring the same amount of background knowledge,” Prohaska said.

“Any time you experience a large shift in format there is an adjustment to the new mode, and this affects students and proctors,” Koennecke said. “Schools have had to race to build the plane as we have been expected to fly it, so to speak.”

Triad Local Schools Superintendent Chris Piper said he looked at test data across the state, and districts who tested with paper and pencil tended to do better than those with online tests.

Another area of issue is the new “Prepared for Success” section of the report card, which focuses on specific types of tests and credentials students can get. These credentials include International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement programs, which are not always available in smaller districts with tighter budgets.

“The preparedness data does not provide any credit to schools that have intentionally built career education pathways and programming into the culture at GHS (Graham High School). It simply measures ACT success and ‘points’ toward graduation. This is not a holistic way to judge a high school,” Koennecke said.

Koennecke added he is not pleased with the state’s determined “cut” scores – or the scores for passage – on the different tests.

“The overall cut scores are inherently punitive for all schools right now, and especially for our special students who need supports,” he said. “The state’s ignorance as to supports and accommodations is disappointing.”

And Thiel said he disagrees with the idea of boiling down a district to one letter grade: “This report is not a complete measure of the great work of our staff and students. I still continue to find it interesting that, at a time when educators are providing more detailed feedback about student performance, the goal of the state’s report card is to provide a single letter grade for schools.”

Strengths and weaknesses

All Champaign County superintendents and staff are reviewing the test data to evaluate where they can improve.

Prohaska said she was pleased to see the value-added data for her district, which showed students were learning despite not meeting as many indicators as previous years. She said staff will focus on high school value-added data and End of Course testing in the current school year. Staff will also focus on writing across the district.

Graham is working with Literacy Collaborative to improve reading scores, and promoting literacy at all grade levels, as well as reviewing math tools for the new testing formats for grades kindergarten to eight, Koennecke said.

Triad’s overall value-added data score was an A, and the district was 36th in the state, which Piper said was excellent. But he and his staff are developing their own internal assessments to keep better tabs on where students are at in their learning throughout the school year.

Urbana’s graduation rate continues to improve, Thiel said, which speaks to the staff’s continued efforts to keep students in school and learning.

But Urbana does need to work on its math scores, Thiel said. The district has completed a curriculum review and adopted more resources last year to use this year in this area.

“We feel the new math materials and resources will have a positive impact over time,” Thiel said. “In addition, we are continuing to implement early literacy programming such as Literacy Collaborative framework and Reading Recovery to focus on getting students on-track with their literacy skills.”

West Liberty-Salem scores in grades 3-8 were “impressive,” West Liberty-Salem Local Schools Superintendent Kraig Hissong said. He added even the scores at the high school level that did not meet proficiency were still higher than the state average.

“We feel it is just a matter of teachers adjusting their curriculum to target areas covered more on the test,” he said.

Hissong said there is always room for improvement, and staff will continue to work on all areas for that.

Overall, superintendents said they wanted to see the state keep tests and standards the same for a few years to give them reliable data to compare.

Report cards can be viewed at

Comparing report card data to prior years is tricky

By Casey S. Elliott

Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.

Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.

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